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Fall Semester Beginnings


This is the story of cleaning the river.

It started when some friends and I went to this beautiful river, to swim and look for a place to clean up on The Yuba River Cleanup Day. We were swimming and having a wonderful time. On the other side of the river we saw what appeared to be a little shack, so we crossed the river and went to the shack using a difficult trail full of trash and poison oak. When I got there I was shocked. I felt was strange. I wasn’t sad or angry but very impressed; it was something I had never seen before. So much trash and useless stuff; heavy metals, broken glass, and batteries spread through the entire place I couldn’t think what it was all for. The amount of work and effort we had to do did not even cross my mind, all we knew was that we needed to rally an army of people to get it done.

So the next day we got on it and prepped for the following weekend. We recruited as many people as we possibly could, got food to feed all those people, made equipment to carry the garbage, got a big dump truck and three pickup trucks to haul the trash away.

The hard work started on Friday, when a few of us went there to set up camp and get everything ready. We started by making trails on both sides of the river, and cleared all the poison oak, because of that my body is covered in it. We set up a raft to make it easy to get stuff from one side of the river to the other. By the end of Friday we had everything ready for the next day. We started early on Saturday, ready to do all we possibly could. Some of us focused on separating the garbage, and getting it to the other side of the river, while others carried stuff for half a mile through a steep and narrow trail to the dump truck.

The river cleanup was supposed to be only one day. Although I had already worked two days, the amount of garbage was so massive, we decided to come back on Sunday. We worked carrying garbage until around four o‘clock – exhausted, we had filled a big dump truck and three pickup trucks.

And in the end I wasn’t angry at the miner, or complaining abut all the work we had done, but felt happy that we had done so much good and gotten so much help. It also made me think that this wasn’t the end. All the work we had done did not compare to the big picture. Where was all this trash going? How much energy and work will it take to recycle these materials? How much does one person need? How much can he accumulate?


By Andres Jaimes Noriega



Liquid Gold

Sitting, nestled in the rocks was a glass jug full of golden liquid.  The jug caught the light and made the translucent fluid sparkle. If you could capture the sun’s rays into liquid form it would be the glistening contents of this jug. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the substance in this jug was not molten sunbeams but pee.

For the past few years I have participated in the Yuba River Cleanup. Our group has focused mainly on clearing out abandoned mining claims on the Middle Yuba. The miners who inhabited these claims had the legal right to bring large amounts of mining equipment to the site. As time passed many miners brought in non-mining related stuff in order to construct a somewhat permanent residence. These camps are full of peculiar objects, ranging from toilets and ovens to bedpans and barrels of batteries. The most outrageous artifact I have found so far was the jug of miner pee.

The moment I realized the true contents of the jug my mind was flooded with questions. The most pertinent of which were, who was this man? And more importantly to me why did he save jugs of pee? Throughout the day I pondered these questions and discussed them thoroughly with the others who helped to clear out the camp.  I know a jug of pee shouldn’t occupy the entirety of my thoughts, but it did. To me it was a symbol of all the things we as humans accumulate at the cost of others for little to no purpose. By the end of the day I had come up with several conclusions. Maybe he was crazy or refused to leave his shack to urinate or maybe like me he liked the way his pee shimmered when struck by the sun’s vibrant rays.

I now realize that this man’s reasoning and identity is not as important as I made it out to be. Sure it would be nice to solve the mystery of the miner’s pee but in the grand scheme of things this man’s daily habits are irrelevant. The important part of that day is that we cleared out thousands of pounds of waste, some of which was leaking toxins into the environment. Instead of finding this man and attempting to punish him for the mess he had left behind we joined together as a community and did something about it.

It is easy to fall into an interrogative state just as I did and forget what your real purpose is. It is imperative that we take a step back and look at the big picture. What does it matter why this man had barrels full batteries? What matters is that we work together to dispose of them properly. Many of us are privileged enough to live a life where we have the time and energy to combat these problems, but not nearly enough of us chose to. Until every able body is out there cleaning up the jars of pee left from those before us, we will never make a difference that will stick. It is my dream that one hundred years from now my great grandchildren won’t be on a river cleanup disposing jugs of golden liquid marked 2013.

2013 09 22 00.08.21

By Sierra Berry



I search the camp looking for clues to the man who once lived here, completely distracted from the task at hand. Who is he? How did he come to be like this? To be living in one of the most beautiful places, but to trash it instead of tend it. Did he have many friends? Did he live by the river by choice, or was he forced by life circumstance? What’s going wrong with our society that sights like this one are not uncommon? I consider the possibility of mental illness due to over exposure to heavy metals, and any other in a long list of excuses for why he would live like this. Or, is he just another casualty of our broken society? In our “dog eat dog” world, not enough of us are willing to reach out and care for those in need, whether that is our fellow man or our favorite river spot. Our social and ecological problems are reflective of each other, and all we want to do is keep them “out of sight and out of mind”, blame them on someone else so we can feel okay with our lack of action.

For this weekend, we are breaking that cycle. Taking the time to tend to one of our favorite river spots, helping to heal one of the many scars left by mining’s toxic legacy. And, what a joy it was to spend time with friends tending to a place we love, excited to leave something better for future river goers to enjoy.  Although it meant two days of carrying heavy loads of rubbish up a narrow, slippery trail, getting bruised, scraped, covered in poison oak and having thousand of flies trying to dive into our eyes and mouth. Nothing can compare to the sense of accomplishment we all felt tying down the last bits of trash and heading on our way.

2013 09 20 17.03.42

By Alli Stefancich

Mining for Batteries

 So, we participated in the great “Yuba River Cleanup Day”, which for us turned into a cleanup weekend. At first, due to the weather I thought no one was going to show up, but as we were waiting in the van one by one the few people who were truly committed did appear.

We made our way down the narrow rocky road just as the rain stopped. We hiked down the thin path, which had so kindly been cleared of poison oak the day before by part of our own crew and made it to the beautiful middle fork of the Yuba River.  We had a raft set up to cross over to the other side.  As we hiked up the river bank on the opposite side I started to get this overwhelming feeling of despair and sadness when I saw the towering amount of waste that was left behind in one single mining claim. I’m pretty sure that had I been alone at that very moment I would have been crushed by these feelings and wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it. I wonder, it might be possible that this is exactly what happened to the miner who owned this claim and one day he simply abandoned it.

However this wasn’t the case this time, we were many, a small community of people ready, able and willing to clean up this mess. Some people who have cleaned up camps like this one before went straight for the big stuff, like the wood stove, chain saw motors or the generator. I on the other hand started small, digging out batteries from the soil, because to me that was one of the most toxic things there. I was astounded by the amount of batteries one person could accumulate, and that was extremely depressing.

As the day went on those initial feelings slowly washed away and were replaced with motivation.

On the second day, I no longer thought of the mess.  My mind was purely focused on loading the raft, getting everything across the river, loading the containers, hiking carefully back up the trail, and loading the trucks. I was pumped!

By the end of day two when we had three pickup trucks full of trash and recycling, and one dump truck full of scrap metal I was left with this great feeling of accomplishment.  We made a difference!

2013 09 07 16.23.47

By Alicia Ralero



2013 09 22 02.37.29

Chaffin Family Orchard

Even though our five days at Chaffin Farm were full, the experience as a whole felt like meditation. Before we even left our base camp in Nevada City I was looking forward to our time at the farm, kind of like a five year old patiently waiting for Christmas morning. Our days were loosely set up and consisted of: getting a farm tour (of the 2,000 acre family farm run and maintained by just 6 full time farmers), designing and painting a school bus that was themed sustainability, participating in a chicken processing day, and eating as many oranges and or grapefruits as we wanted! There was so much going on and yet the air constantly felt calm, relaxed, and joy filled.

I journaled briefly during a lesson with Chris, the farm manager and while this meant that my attention was divided it was a moment that needed to be saved and remembered. “Chris’ voice is traveling through the air as the sounds of moving water and bird chirps fills the remaining spaces. An endless meadow of beauty lies behind us. Animals surround us thriving in their natural habitat as we visit them placing our feet gently with open eyes, carrying a strong eagerness to learn. Education and learning is my life! And I love it so much.” This farm is one of the many places in my life (though not typically common in other lives as I believe it should be) where learning is a constant: it truly is unavoidable. Our ‘lesson’ about raising goats, which consisted of Chris sharing his knowledge and experience with us and answering the questions we had, took place standing in a pasture amongst goats—some just days away from giving birth. What a great environment to learn about goats in. Classrooms are everywhere. The Chaffin farmers really understand this and make it part of their lives. If you cross paths with a Chaffin farmer you should feel honored—they are very special people. The farmers directly and their family are the type of people that the world would benefit greatly from having more of.

My bare feet touched the earth everyday while at Chaffin and it felt so exceptional. Nearly everywhere, nearly all day: the skin of my feet connected with the ground beneath me directly. I was barefoot even while picking oranges in the dark. Lily, Tom, and I were the gatherers for our family that night, returning from the orchard with bags bulging of freshly picked oranges. I had never picked an orange before. I was pleasantly surprised at how natural it felt even though it was something new to me. Everything at Chaffin farm felt natural. When we were painting the school bus and being suffocated by the smell of oil based paint I could look into one of the countless tunnels of olive trees and to return to the natural farming world. It also helped the chemical-filled paint job feel better when the olive orchard would erupt with laughter as our faces wrinkled and the sound of joy left our open smiling mouths. During chicken processing day, when chickens are slaughtered and prepared for consumption, feeling the disposable apron around my waist, which I was using to prevent my clothes from getting bloody, I felt unconnected in an oddly connected way. Killing your own food, living on a farm, and yet being in an environment that felt as inviting as a hospital. I was reassured and re grounded by knowing that I could (and did in fact) leave the chicken scene and sit in the grass by the sheep with a view of Tabletop Mountain just behind them.

Chaffin Farm had an indescribable feel to it. Many farms I have visited and worked on have a great feeling but this was different. Seeing the faces of the farmers as they took time out of their busy days to check on us and see if we needed anything or if they could join in the fun we were having and interact with us was special. In knowing someone for just five days, having not met them before and unsure if our paths will cross again it is quite fascinating to share experiences with them: laughter, hiking through poison oak, swimming under a waterfall, standing on the hood of an old bus and spreading the blue paint, being involved in the chicken processing day and the emotional feelings included there, breaking bread together, and much more leaves me with a unique good feeling. Experiences and openness to share are what makes this world so valuable to me: Chaffin was a great reminder of that and I am excited to see how I hold onto that energy and spread it through all that I interact with in my life.



As soon as we take a right turn into the olive and orange orchards, I am pleasantly smacked in the nose with the pungent scent of sweet orange blossoms. I try inhaling as much as I can, fill my entire being with the smell, but unfortunately, as humans have been created, we rely on exhalation as well.

As if our introduction could get any better, we are welcomed to our camp site with rows and rows of olive trees, beautifully entwined with 100 years of history. The fragrance, the lush green coloring my entire surroundings, the endless tunnel of arching branches in every direction, made me feel like I had finally found a Utopia on Earth.


To continue the magical experience, we meet Chris, a partner of Kurt and Carol, the owners of Chaffin Farm, who entertained us during our stay. Chris is so friendly and easy to get along with that I knew we were going to have a great time. We hiked around Table Mountain, from where we could see the whole orchard as well as Chico fading off into the horizon. There is a peaceful, quiet, vernal pool surrounded by grazing cows and vibrant wildflowers. Table Mountain is breathtaking and I’d love to go back there someday.

Chris had bought an 89’ Bluebird school bus to tour classes who are visiting the farm around and trusted us with the task of painting it. Since being at Finding the Good I have been acknowledged as “the artist,” which is pretty shocking because I have never been in that position before. I directed the project as best I could, with a lot of help of course, and we’re all proud of how the job turned out. I never really took my art seriously, it was just a hobby I enjoyed occasionally, but being put in the position of “the artist” is making me reconsider. Painting the bus was a valuable experience for me and helped me continue my thoughts on going to art school.

We arrived at the perfect time; the staff, students and Tom got to paint the bus, the orange blossoms had just started blooming and the weather was beautiful. We were sad to leave, but the trip felt well-rounded, full of good memories, and the rain encouraged our journey home. I would love to visit Chaffin Family Orchards again, and if you are reading this, thank you for having us!


Back at Base Camp!

Well, we are finally back in Nevada City after an amazing adventure.

The drive home from Baja California was very conflicting for me. I was happy to be going back to a place where everyone spoke my language, where I could do my laundry properly and sleep in my comfy bed, in my comfy warm cabin, but I also didn’t want to leave! Crossing the border I felt panicked: Ah! No! I can’t believe it’s over! We’re already going back!? I found myself wanting to forever be surrounded by the generous, comforting, openhearted nature of the Mexican culture. America seemed so scary, dull and grey; the dry dead land filled with concrete buildings, the guards with their big guns held closely to their body, like a child. It all seemed backwards. Driving over the actual “border” and watching the line clearly marked on the road, looking at the plaque dividing Mexico and the United States, I wanted to run to the back of the van and get as far away from that division as I could, but I was already the furthest back in the van I could be and I just had to accept it.

Why was I so anxious about entering America? That’s saying something. There is so much wrong about this country and the world, why aren’t we confronting and admitting it? Maybe a lot of us are. I understand that in order to change how society has been living and evolving, it takes time, then slowly consciousness shifts and we rise up for the better.

We’re on the tipping point. Everyone can see what should become, what should change, but for some reason we continue our lives as if someone else will fix all the problems. It doesn’t work that way, we’re all in this together! We all need to participate and support greater causes. I’m probably preaching to the choir here, and hopefully we all have these same thoughts, but is a thought worth anything without an action?



I learned so much in Mexico; too much to even try and measure. From the people, the culture, and the Spanish language, but also a lot about the world as a whole. That is what I am working on absorbing and knowing what to do with. A personal goal I have been working on for years is how to be able to accurately portray how I feel about something and or someone, and share my appreciation in a full way–with more than two gracious words. This is something that I have been struggling with and growing from lately. I am so unsure about how I can appreciate those around me fully and share that with them. For the past few days part of our discussions, thoughts, and time has been on thank you letters and how we can thank the people that gave us so much while we were in Mexico. I have put a lot of thought into it, and in thinking about that I have started seriously contemplating how I can do that for Tom and Deb. They deserve it, and it is a vital part of the learning process for me. Being aware is a baby step, appreciating (and being able to accurately convey that) is the stretch of a lung in order to reach a point of true learning. In this instance I need to be able to state my appreciation in order to understand and be able to get close to learning fully. How I can share with them how much I truly appreciate what they are doing, how it is changing me, and how they are living along side me. What they do blows my mind. Not because it is so cool, unique, special, generous, brave, hard, full of joy, or any one thing: because it is all of those things, and so much more. Everything from the beauty we are surrounded by endlessly to the hardship that we see in the world, they are there to walk with us and share the knowledge that they hold. What can we do? What do I do? Am I being selfish if I only figure out what I want? Should I do something more than just what I want? How can I, as an individual, help participate in the big changes that need to for this world to be as full and loving as it should be? Wow! SO many questions and thoughts have been running around the labyrinth that is inside me. SO many of the sparks that started my mind thinking, questioning, and rethinking, were from something that Tom or Deb said and it did out of love. They love so much, and because they love so strongly (and they are none of our parents) they are in a position where they can step back and notice our struggles and let us struggle and see our glowing faces of satisfaction and self pride when we go inside the challenge and learn from it.

Our time in Mexico came to an end and the transitions that we faced when we returned to Nevada City were not easy. They were and continue to be a growing experience for each of us, a place where it felt ok to hurt in order to grow and love. I, for one, am very confused and unsure about the world. What it means to me, and what I should be doing in it. One of the things I am clearest about is how grateful I am every single day. Learning is everywhere. I knew that before I came, but now I am living and loving that in a different more real way.

Spring break is almost here: another transition and another start to another routine. Ironically, continuous change is becoming a routine for us. It keeps us strong, on our toes, and excited. I don’t know about the others but I am really looking forward to break while at the same time I do not want to leave this space and the feeling of what we have created and continue to strengthen everyday. I am already looking forward to the last day of spring break knowing that I will be returning to Nevada City and the new loving community that I have created there. Once we get back we are going to hit the ground running: preparing for what comes next!



We are coming to a close of this cycle of ourjourney. I am sad to see the faces that I have grown so tender with, leave my sight. But I am happy and trustful that they will continue on without us. Everything about this cycle of Finding the Good seems complete to me. It’s all coming full circle, and this makes me excited; excited to see what’s to come and what is yet to be born out of the new cycle. Going home is a guarantee of the end of what has just happened, but its ending is not a removal of me from it. It is both I and the journey that end, and we are reborn into the next stage. I face the mistakes and triumphs in it and embrace them with my heart and my mind. Like the Phoenix, we rise from the ashes of our own demise that was the only solid consequence of us even beginning the journey. The end is not the end, but only the beginning of something new.

~Max Tejeda


Selection of Photos, Part Deux

This gallery contains 15 photos.

Here are some more photos of the rest of our trip in Baja California. They range from our time in Bahia Asuncion, to San Roque to our last destination, Ensenada. As you can see it was an absolutely amazing experience … Continue reading

Shari’s Words

Shari Bondi, our whale liaison, manages several Baja California-related blogs, and has made posts relating her adventures with the Finding the Good crew.

Check them out at: